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questionable content, possibly linked ? ? ?

Category: Assessment (Page 1 of 4)

TimeWarner Journalistic Integrity

Direct link to statement.

Partial excerpt:

Editorial Policy

At CNN, integrity and accuracy are of the utmost importance to the brand, and systems are in place to maintain them. For example, stories are thoroughly reviewed by producers and particularly sensitive stories are reviewed further by a team of senior editors, standards and practices specialists, and lawyers before they are broadcast.

Alexey Soskovets – IRA director?

There are a couple of Russian language news articles from 2013 which indicate that it was Alexei Soskovets who answered when correspondents applied for job ads posted by the Internet Research Agency.

Novaya Gazeta, September 2013:

We meet with a friend Alexei Soskovets – a native of the youth polittusovki. In “friends” VKontakte he has a lot of activists of the movement “Nashi”, “Young Guard of United Russia” and employees of the Committee for Youth Policy of St. Petersburg, including the former head of the committee Nikita Alexandrov.

In 2013, Soskovets’s “North-West Service Agency” won 18 contests for the organization of holidays, forums and sports events for St. Petersburg authorities. In half of the competitions the agency participated alone. In the summer of 2013, the contest for transport services for participants of the camp “Seliger” won.

Mr7, September 2013:

I call Alexei, whose phone number is indicated in the ads ( 1 , 2 , 3 ). This kind of hospitality is rarely seen in the interview: a young man escorts to his office, not yet fully equipped after moving to a new building, is wondering “how to get there” and “it is convenient to sit”, almost nothing asks the essence of the vacancy and prints a questionnaire about employment.

Alexei Soskovets is a young businessman, the organizer of the holidays and the “mayor” of the Committee for Youth Policy at the “Foursquare”. In 2013, its “North-West Service Agency” won 17 contests for the organization of holidays, forums and sports events for St. Petersburg authorities. In half of the competitions the agency participated alone. If anything remained from the budget for small holidays, everything  was given to the firm “Neva entertainant”, in which Alexey, according to public sources, is listed as the project manager. In the summer of 2013, “North-Western Agency” won the contestfor transportation costs of the participants of the camp “Seliger”. Journalists estimated that the cost of gasoline for the delivery of one activist cost the budget 1,800 rubles, although with an average consumption of gasoline would have turned out to be 300 – six times less.

 

Evgeny Prigozhin – IRA financier

Meduza, June 2016:

In 2014, hackers from the online group “Anonymous International” further corroborated that Prigozhin’s company Concord was involved in financing the Internet Research Agency.

It would seem that Prigozhin and his people provided the Russian authorities with other propaganda-related services, as well. In November 2013, three months before the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a news agency called “Kharkov” was founded in Ukraine, and it opened a branch office in Crimea. The agency advocated a pro-Russian position in its news reports, using the term “Novorossiya” well before violence began in eastern Ukraine. (Novorossiya is a historical term of the Russian Empire denoting a region north of the Black Sea that suddenly re-entered the political lexicon when Moscow-backed separatists took up arms against Kiev in 2014.) According to the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, Evgeny Prigozhin financed Kharkov. (Journalists later discovered that Prigozhin’s mobile phone number—listed as “Evgeny Viktorovich”—was among the contacts of Konstantin Kobzar, one of Viktor Yanukovich’s assistants.)

The next day, on May 31, Prigozhin filed 15 different lawsuits against the Internet search engine Yandex, seeking to utilize Russia’s new law on “the right to be forgotten,” which obliges search engines to respond to citizens’ requests to remove results linking to “illegal, inaccurate, or irrelevant information” about that individual. In particular, Prigozhin has demanded that Yandex delete its links to Novaya Gazeta’s report about the “troll factory,” Fontanka’s report about Prigozhin’s “business empire” in military communities (specifically, his state contracts with the Defense Ministry), and an article about military communities published on the Ukrainian news website Apostrof, with the headline “On Putin’s Thieving Chef.”

Yandex refused to censor its search results, arguing that Prigozhin offered no reasons, and neither did he give any proof that the published information is inaccurate. Technically speaking, it’s still unclear why Prigozhin wants these hyperlinks removed from his search results on Yandex. Prigozhin has refused to speak to journalists for many years now.

Maybe Yandex isn’t as corrupt as I thought…

From mr7.ru, March 2015 (Google auto-translate from Russian):

The company is allegedly financed by the Concord holding company (food production, restaurants, real estate, development) headed by the friend and cook of the Russian president Yevgeny Prigozhin. Since 2000, the holding company has been organizing banquets in the Kremlin, has also been cooperating with JSC Voentorg and the Ministry of Defense.”

Daily Beast, October 2017:

And Baskaev fingered Putin pal Yevgeny Prigozhin as his former “boss,” or “our guy who gives us money.”

Different Daily Beast article about sanctions against Russian officials in US (a year old, it says):

The U.S. Treasury Department has added seven Russians and dozens of companies to its sanctions list because of Moscow’s activities in Crimea and Ukraine. The updated list, released Tuesday, includes Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman known as President Vladimir Putin’s chef. The addition of new names provoked an angry response from the Kremlin, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov vowing to get revenge. “We will be expanding our lists, we will see how we can respond asymmetrically,” Ryabkov told Russia’s TASS news agency. Prigozhin, known for his Kremlin connections, was added to the list because he provided financial and technological support to top Russian defense officials, the Treasury statement said. He has also been linked to a murky private security contractor that has sent mercenaries to Ukraine and Syria, known as ChVK Vagner.

Prigozhin Wikipedia page, current to November 2017:

Russian media point out that according to documents, published by hackers from Anonymous International, Concord is directly involved with trolling administration through the agency. Researchers cite e-mail correspondence, in which Concord gives instructions to trolls and receives reports on accomplished work.

 

Mikhail Burchik – IRA head

According to RBC.ru auto-translation of October 2017 article:

The actual head of the whole “factory” is, as the RBC magazine wrote, 31-year-old Mikhail Burchik, previously the owner of his own IT companies VkAp.ru and GaGaDo, the publisher of newspapers for municipal districts. Burchik himself never officially confirmed that he runs a “factory” or works at Savushkin’s office, but in conversation with the RBC magazine he said that he advises the media “as an expert in the promotion and development of Internet projects.” Burchik personally communicates with about 20-30 people, who in turn manage the staff from 10 to 100 people depending on the direction, describes the model of the source work from the “factory”.

It’s odd, because I’ve been tracking two other possible Mikhail’s, Kurkin and Bystrov, who are sometimes credited as founder/directors of the Internet Research Agency. It’s possible all three were at different points, but makes it hard to track. But makes for a bit of confusion in the research.

Adrian Chen’s 2015 NY Times piece:

The source field on Twitter showed that the tweets Zoe Foreman — and the majority of other trolls — sent about #ColumbianChemicals were posted using a tool called Masss Post, which is associated with a nonworking page on the domain Add1.ru. According to online records, Add1​.ru was originally registered in January 2009 by Mikhail Burchik, whose email address remained connected to the domain until 2012. Documents leaked by Anonymous International listed a Mikhail Burchik as the executive director of the Internet Research Agency.

In early February, I called Burchik, a young tech entrepreneur in St. Petersburg, to ask him about the hoax and its connection to the Internet Research Agency. In an article for the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German journalist Julian Hans had claimed that Burchik confirmed the authenticity of the leaked documents. But when I called Burchik, he denied working at the Internet Research Agency. “I have heard of it, but I don’t work in this organization,” he said. Burchik said he had never heard of the Masss Post app; he had no specific memory of the Add1.ru domain, he said, but he noted that he had bought and sold many domains and didn’t remember them all. Burchik suggested that perhaps a different Mikhail Burchik was the agency’s executive director. But the email address used by the Mikhail Burchik in the leak matched the address listed at that time on the website of the Mikhail Burchik I spoke with.

 

Vyacheslav Volodin – Chairman of State Duma

I put together a post looking at sources for a software application used by the Chairman of the State Duma of Russian Vyacheslav Volodin.

Vedomosti, May 2014 – auto-translated from Russian:

“Coming at the peak of the meeting rallies, the new team of Vyacheslav Volodin radically revised the attitude towards working with the network audience, placing a stake on systemic manipulation of public opinion through the tools of new media.

This work was recognized so effective that it was decided to send these weapons outside – to the American and European audiences.

According to sources close to the presidential administration, preliminary work began in the fall of 2013. The strategy was agreed upon by Volodin, after which they selected the performers and began to create the infrastructure.

Curators of the external direction are called those who were previously engaged in the domestic market. Work on the West is only just unfolding, but already now it is becoming noticeable.”

So their premise is that the technology infrastructure developed after internet crackdowns in Russia in 2011 was so successful they exported it. And this written in 2014, which seems all the more prescient.

But as we know, Americans were developing similar technologies at a government level in 2010/2011 time period as well. (Also HB Gary leak.)

Here’s that mention of India and Thailand again:

“At the same time, the hired Russian structures themselves use subcontractors around the world. While it was possible to reliably establish their working contacts with groups in Germany, India and Thailand. Most likely we are talking about natives of Russia.

Now the system that is being built in America and Europe exists in a test mode. Mostly they are engaged in classical information-analytical work.

The so-called “Anonymous International” group has laid out some of the documentation, possibly related to the activity of one of the main “American” teams (download the folder at http://www.sendspace.com/file/q3jft3).

This is the new, external department of the “nest of trolls,” which was exposed in September 2013 in an investigation (“http://www.novayagazeta.ru/politics/59889.html) of Novaya Gazeta.””

(Note: The sendspace link above to Anonymous International/Shaltay Boltay leaks is not functional.)

Cripo.com.ua May 2014 article, auto-translation:

“At the end of May, a group of hackers from the “Anonymous International” began publishing a series of documents received from the hacked electronic mailboxes of Olga Dzalba, a financier of the Internet Research Agency (AIE), a structure based in the suburbs of St. Petersburg – Olgino – in the summer of 2013, the order of the head of the company “Concord” Eugene Prigozhin. In addition, in the open access were reports on the work done, addressed to a man by the name of Volodin.

Vedomosti , by the way, links the Kremlin’s adopted strategy for manipulating public consciousness through new media with the name of Vyacheslav Volodin, the first deputy head of the presidential administration.

As it follows from the documents analyzed by Fontanka.ru , under a single management a scheme was built out of Internet agencies with hundreds of paid bloggers and commentators, as well as several media outlets in Russia and Ukraine. Their maintenance is estimated at 33.5 million rubles a month, of which more than 17 million – in cash. Financial documents are full of notes “not of.” – Apparently, “not officially.””

BBC February 2012:

“Mr Volodin is widely considered one of the country’s most influential and ambitious hardliners.

He is a deputy prime minister and the government’s chief of staff, and as such is the brains behind Vladimir Putin’s presidential election campaign.”

His Wikipedia page, current to November 2017:

“In October 21, 2010 he was appointed Deputy Prime Minister under Dmitry Medvedev. as well as—after the dismissal of Sergey Sobyanin in connection with his approval to the Mayor of Moscow—Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office.”

Medvedev and Sobyanin connection.

Interesting, via same Wikipedia source:

“In April 28, 2014, following the Crimean status referendum, the U.S. Treasury put Volodin on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN), a list of individuals sanctioned as “members of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”[4][5][6][7][8] The sanctions freeze any assets he holds in the US[7] and ban him from entering the United States.[9]

On 12 May 2014, Volodin was added to the European Union sanctions list due to his role in the 2014 Crimean crisis.[10] He is barred from entering the EU countries, and his assets in the EU have to be frozen.”

The Moscow Times, September 2016:

“Vyacheslav Volodin was brought in to mastermind Putin’s victory in the 2012 presidential election after the Bolotnaya protests in December 2011.”

More links and quotes I compiled regarding 2011 Russian election protests.

Reuters February 2012:

“He has mostly kept in the shadows, especially since he became first deputy chief of staff in the presidential administration in a reshuffle following the start of mass protests over alleged fraud in a December 4 parliamentary election.

Volodin’s challenge is to ensure Putin wins 50 percent of the votes on March 4 to avoid a second-round runoff, which could undermine his authority.”

United Russia links.

Associated Press, September 2016.

“While Volodin has largely stayed in the shadows, he is considered one of Russia’s most influential officials, a puppet master who has directed the parliament’s work and engineered elections. He was also widely seen as a driving force behind a string of draconian laws in response to massive anti-Putin protests in 2011-2012.”

Regarding Putin election situation of 2012, BBC September 2011:

“Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says he has accepted a proposal to stand for president in March 2012.

Addressing the ruling United Russia party’s annual congress, Mr Putin and current President Dmitry Medvedev backed one another to switch roles.”

… “He had already served two terms as president before Mr Medvedev took over in 2008. Mr Putin was barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive term.”

… “Under recent constitutional amendments, the new president will have a six-year mandate rather than four years as before. He or she will be able to serve no more than two consecutive terms, meaning Mr Putin could be in office until 2024.”

… “However, along with genuine messages of support, a #putin2012 hashtag appeared which raised suspicions of manipulation among bloggers.

It was being promoted, in part, by tweeters who had registered on Twitter on the same date, 27 June 2011, some within seconds of each other, with account locations that spanned Russia.”

 

2011 Russian anti-election fraud protests

From Wikipedia, current as of November 2017:

“On the first days following the election, Putin and United Russia were supported by rallies of the youth organisations Nashi and Young Guard.”

2011 election, same source:

“According to RIA Novosti, there were more than 1,100 official reports of election irregularities across the country, including allegations of vote fraud, obstruction of observers and illegal campaigning.[16]”

… “On 4 February 2012 the Investigation Committee of the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation announced that the majority of videos allegedly showing falsifications at polling stations were in fact falsified and originally distributed from a single server in California, and the investigation on that started.[30]”

And of course its ironic that Putin at this time (and since) actively claims the US is doing to Russia what the US says Russia is doing to them (and perhaps both are right).

According to Putin the legitimate grievances of this young and active element of Russian society are being exploited by opportunistic elements which seek to destabilize Russia.[34]

… “Alexey Navalny, a top blogger and anti-corruption activist who branded Putin’s United Russia party as the “party of crooks and thieves”, is credited with initial mobilization of mass protests through postings on his LiveJournal blog and Twitter account. Navalny’s agitation was denounced by United Russia as “typical dirty self-promotion” and a profane tweet describing Navalny as a sheep engaged in oral sex originated from Medvedev’s Twitter account.[40][41]”

Medvedev’s famous Twitter account, which was later hacked.

Nashi:

‘Many pro-government supporters, including the pro-Putin youth group Nashi, were mobilized on 6 December at the site of the planned demonstration where they made noise in support of the government and United Russia.[42] There was a 15,000-strong rally of Nashi on Manezhnaya Square[43] and an 8,000-strong rally of the Young Guard on Revolution Square.[44] ‘

… “Twitter users in Russia have reported being overwhelmed by pro-government tweets timed to Bolotnaya Square protest-related tweets.[180] Many tweets seem to have been sent by hijacked computers, though the perpetrator(s) are not yet known.[180]”

BBC March 2012:

“”These bots succeeded in blocking the actual message feed with that hashtag,” he wrote.

The rate at which pro-government messages were posted, about 10 per second, suggests they were being done automatically rather than by individuals, said Mr Goncharov.”

What I’m calling “stream dominance” – signal jamming and replacement during high-sensitivity events.

That article links out to a December 2011 krebsonsecurity.com article:

“A review of the 2,000 Twitter accounts linked above indicates that most of them were created at the beginning of July 2011, and have very few tweets other than those meant to counter the protesters, or to simply fill the hashtag feeds with meaningless garbage. Some of the bot messages include completely unrelated hashtags or keywords, seemingly to pollute the news stream for the protester hashtags.”

TrendMicro article about the botnet, from December 2011:

“On December 6 2011, a number of pro-Kremlin activists launched an attack on Twitter using bots which posted messages with a hashtag #триумфальная (Triumfalnaya). These bots posted a range of national slogans and crude language. With a rate of up to 10 messages per second, these bots succeeded in blocking the actual message feed with that hashtag.”

Includes a short list of possible bot accounts involved.

NY Times, December 2011 article about counter-protests:

“But attendance at the party’s demonstration was sparse, not enough to fill part of the modest square designated for the event, and not even close to the 25,000 people the authorities later said attended. Moreover, many of the attendees seemed to have been taken there against their will.”

VKontakte (VK), Wikipedia:

“Founder Pavel Durov was dismissed as CEO in April 2014 after he had failed to retract a (according to himself) prank April fools letter of resignation.[20] Durov then claimed the company had been effectively taken over by Vladimir Putin’s allies[20][25][68] and suggested his ousting was the result of his refusal to hand over personal details of users to the Russian Federal Security Service and his refusal to shut down a VK group dedicated to anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.[20][25]”

Supported by BBC March 2012 reporting:

“The Russian government has also taken steps to tackle the protests by asking the VKontakte social network to block chatter among activists.

VKontakte was contacted by Russia’s Federal Security Service and was asked to shut down groups in which some wanted to turn the protests violent.

The site said it would be unfair to block entire groups but said it would cut off individual members who incited violence.

Pavel Durov, founder of VKontakte, said the site was “100% apolitical” and did not support those in power or the opposition.”

Archived WSJ article on the FSB request.

 

Russian internet crackdown after 2011 protests

My current operating theory goes something like this, vis-a-vis Russia.

  1. Internet crackdowns followed popular anti-corruption protests
  2. Youth movements were organized/re-directed to support pro-statist agenda.
  3. Those movements perfected techniques to astro-turf and manipulate media locally, and exported their techniques to Europe and United States.
  4. Internet Research Agency, and friends, are examples of organizational models to perpetuate those techniques and missions abroad.
  5. IRA infitrated social movements and social media in US using same combination of tools.
  6. Somehow “coincidentally” these IRA et al efforts dovetailed perfectly with a certain presidential campaign environment.

Further notes:

2011.

Quoting from a Slate December 2016 article:

“But 2011 began with the Arab Spring chasing out the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt, and ended with Moscow’s middle classes taking to the streets in Facebook-organized protests against electoral corruption. Facebook did more than just make it easier to organize; in a year of popular revolution, it let some Russians feel they were part of something bigger, that they had a chance. It was a profound shock to Putin’s government.”

… “Opposition websites were hit with powerful and coordinated distributed denial of service attacks, trolling, and disinformation. Deluged with pro-government propaganda, local news platforms basically gave up trying to separate fact from political fiction. The sheer volume of fake news, plus its sophistication, meant algorithms could no longer tell the difference.”

January 2011 Telegraph article about the state of the Russian internet.

Wikipedia Internet in Russia article:

“In September 2011 Russia overtook Germany on the European market with the highest number of unique visitors online.[2] In March 2013 a survey found that Russian had become the second most commonly used language on the web.[3] “

2012:

Same Slate source as above:

… “In 2012, new censorship measures were brought in, using technologies that indiscriminately block addresses and inspect each packet of data.”

Wikipedia Internet Censorship in Russia article:

“Since 2012, Russia maintains a centralized internet blacklist (known as the “single register”) maintained by the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor). The list is used for the censorship of individual URLs, domain names, and IP addresses. It was originally introduced to block sites that contain materials advocating drug abuse and drug production, descriptions of suicide methods, and containing child pornography. It was subsequently amended to allow the blocking of materials that are classified as extremist, call for illegal meetings, or contain other content deemed illegal.[1]”

… “Internet service providers (ISPs) are held legally responsible for any illegal content that is accessible to their users (intermediary liability).[8]”

… “A ban on all software and websites related to circumventing internet filtering in Russia, including VPN software, anonymizers, and instructions on how to circumvent government website blocking, was passed in 2017.[21]”

… “Russia’s System of Operational-Investigatory Measures (SORM) requires telecommunications operators to install hardware provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB). It allow the agency to unilaterally monitor users’ communications metadata and content, including phone calls, email traffic and web browsing activity.[8] Metadata can be obtained without a warrant.[8] In 2014, the system was expanded to include social media platforms, and the Ministry of Communications ordered companies to install new equipment with Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) capability.[24]”

… “As of January 2018, companies registered in Russia as “organizers of information dissemination”, such as online messaging applications, will not be permitted to allow unidentified users.[29]”

Navalny, 2014, same Wikipedia source:

“In March 2014, in the midst of the Crimean crisis, the LiveJournal blog of Alexei Navalny, Kasparov.ru and Grani.ru were blocked by the government. These sites, which opposed the Russian government, were blocked for “making calls for unlawful activity and participation in mass events held with breaches of public order.”[68]”

SORM Wikipedia page:

“In August 2014, SORM-2 usage was extended to monitoring of social networks, chats and forums, requiring their operators to install SORM probes in their networks.[5][6]”

… “The SORM device recommended by the FSB is named Omega.[10] Equipment by Cellebrite appears to be in use.[11] SORM also enables the use of mobile control points, a laptop that can be plugged directly into communication hubs and immediately intercept and record the operator’s traffic.[3]”

… “Since 2010, intelligence officers can wiretap someone’s phones or monitor their Internet activity based on received reports that an individual is preparing to commit a crime. They do not have to back up those allegations with formal criminal charges against the suspect.[15] According to a 2011 ruling, intelligence officers have the right to conduct surveillance of anyone who they claim is preparing to call for “extremist activity.”[15]”

 

Million dollar question – Facebook ad buys

September 2017 CNN reporting on BLM ads targeting Baltimore & Ferguson.

“Senator Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the “million-dollar question” about the Facebook ads centered on how the Russians knew whom to target.”

Were they being fed statistical targeting information, and by whom? Or were they just guessing?

Maybe that investigation will uncover some evidence it can share with the public.

Engadget September 2017 article claiming FB knew well in advance of the election what was happening with the ad buys.

“Despite once saying that it was “crazy” to believe Russians influenced the 2016 election, Facebook knew about a possible operation as early as June, 2016, the Washington Post reports. It only started taking it seriously after President Obama met privately with CEO Mark Zuckerberg ahead of Trump’s inauguration. He warned that if the social network didn’t take action to mitigate fake news and political agitprop, it would get worse during the next election. Obama’s aides are said to regret not doing more to handle the problem.”

Appears to be Washington Post September 2017 source of above:

“These issues have forced Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies to weigh core values, including freedom of speech, against the problems created when malevolent actors use those same freedoms to pump messages of violence, hate and disinformation.”

… “Facebook’s efforts were aided in part by the relatively transparent ways in which the extremist group sought to build its global brand. Most of its propaganda messages on Facebook incorporated the Islamic State’s distinctive black flag — the kind of image that software programs can be trained to automatically detect.

In contrast, the Russian disinformation effort has proven far harder to track and combat because Russian operatives were taking advantage of Facebook’s core functions, connecting users with shared content and with targeted native ads to shape the political environment in an unusually contentious political season, say people familiar with Facebook’s response.”

… “The sophistication of the Russian tactics caught Facebook off-guard. Its highly regarded security team had erected formidable defenses against traditional cyber attacks but failed to anticipate that Facebook users — deploying easily available automated tools such as ad micro-targeting — pumped skillfully crafted propaganda through the social network without setting off any alarm bells.”

This is interesting:

“He described how the company had used a technique known as machine learning to build specialized data-mining software that can detect patterns of behavior — for example, the repeated posting of the same content — that malevolent actors might use.

The software tool was given a secret designation, and Facebook is now deploying it and others in the run-up to elections around the world. It was used in the French election in May, where it helped disable 30,000 fake accounts, the company said. It was put to the test again on Sunday when Germans went to the polls. Facebook declined to share the software tool’s code name. ”

… “Instead of searching through impossibly large batches of data, Facebook decided to focus on a subset of political ads.

Technicians then searched for “indicators” that would link those ads to Russia. To narrow down the search further, Facebook zeroed in on a Russian entity known as the Internet Research Agency, which had been publicly identified as a troll farm.

“They worked backwards,” a U.S. official said of the process at Facebook.”

The Atlantic, September 2017.

“The problem appears to have been that Facebook’s spam- and fraud-tuned machine-learning systems could not see any differences between the “legitimate” speech of Americans discussing the election and the work of Russian operatives.”

Regarding WP quote above:

“I take this to mean that they identified known Internet Research Agency trolls, looked at the ads they posted, and then looked for similar ads being run, liked, or shared by other accounts.”

This is a very good direction of conjecture, if you ask me:

“Regular digital agencies (and media companies) routinely use Facebook ad buys to test whether stories and their attached “packaging” will fly on the social network. You run a bunch of different variations and find the one that the most people share. If the Internet Research Agency is basically a small digital agency, it would be quite reasonable that there was a small testing budget to see what content the operatives should push. In this case, the buys wouldn’t be about direct distribution of content—they aren’t trying to drive clicks or page likes—but merely to learn about what messages work.”

And:

“And the last possibility is that the Internet Research Agency wanted to make a buy that it knew would get Facebook in trouble with the government once it was revealed. Think of it as corporate kompromat. Surely the Internet Research Agency would know that buying Facebook ads would look bad for Facebook, not to mention sowing the discord that seems to have been the primary motivation for the information campaign.”

I’m sure the truth is some blend of all of the above, and we may not be privy to it any time soon.

North-Western Service Agency Links

From Wikipedia Internet Research Agency article, current to Nov. 2017:

“According to journalists’ investigations, the office in Olgino was named as Internet Research Agency Ltd. (Russian: ООО «Агентство интернет-исследований»).[3][8] The company was founded in the summer of 2013.[6]

Journalists also point out that Alexey Soskovets, who had participated in Russian youth political community, was directly connected to the office in Olgino. His company, North-Western Service Agency, won 17 or 18 (according to different sources) contracts for organizing celebrations, forums and sport competitions for authorities of Saint Petersburg. The agency was the only participant in half of those bids. In the summer of 2013 the agency won a tender for providing freight services for participants of Seliger camp.[3][9]”

… “Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported that, according to Alexey Soskovets, head of the office in Olgino, North-Western Service Agency was hiring employees for similar projects in Moscow and other cities in 2013.[3]”

Novaya Gazeta September 2013 article link. (Auto-translated Google Chrome extension)

“We meet with a friend Alexei Soskovets – a native of the youth polittusovki. In “friends” VKontakte he has a lot of activists of the movement “Nashi”, “Young Guard of United Russia” and employees of the Committee for Youth Policy of St. Petersburg, including the former head of the committee Nikita Alexandrov.

In 2013, Soskovets’s “North-West Service Agency” won 18 contests for the organization of holidays, forums and sports events for St. Petersburg authorities. In half of the competitions the agency participated alone. In the summer of 2013, the contest for transport services for participants of the camp “Seliger” won.”

Wish I had a human-translation of this, because the article seems quite relevant and interesting:

“While filling in the questionnaires, Alexey described our functionality. According to him, now they are engaged in increasing the index of certain articles. “There are different articles – social, business, political and so on. We act on the principle of “Yandex-market”, – he began. – “Yandex-Market” is a huge online store that says where it is better to buy. Under each product there is a comment of people who say that this is an excellent phone, this is a bad phone. Alas, the realities of life are such that not always people want to write the first comments. We need to increase the attendance of the site. This can be done by robots, but robots do their work mechanically, and sometimes a system like “Yandex” bans them. Therefore, it was decided to do it by people. Write a comment from yourself with the vector indicated by us. For example, about the G-20, you can write that it is very honorable for Russia,”

Here we go, as far as other offices goes:

“”Now we are recruiting people, in several cities we are acting – Moscow, Peter”, Alexey specifies. He says that they do not have anything to do with Nashi, but it does not exclude that something like that will turn out.”

So Alexey may have an explicit Nashi connection which could make an explicit personnel bridge between Nashi and IRA.

Outside of the above, I’m not finding much reliable source information on Alexei / Alexey Soskovets and North-West / North-Western Service Agency. Or in conjunction with mentions of Moscow. Maybe a Russian-language business search would turn something up, but I’m not quite there yet.

In fact, the frequency with which the Wikipedia IRA source text is quoted verbatim on third party forums is dubious in and of itself.

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